Here in the opinions section we have recently seen articles dealing with gun control and allowing alcohol on campus, at first glance these issues may seem unrelated, but on second glance I think we can see we are really dealing with the same issue: collective rights versus individual rights.

Some people want to go to school in a gun free zone, and some would like to be able to protect themselves. Some people would like to drink on campus, while others would like to be an alcohol free school. Both sides seem fairly reasonable, so how do we decide?

I think we are asking the wrong questions. When we ask if alcohol or guns should be allowed, or if we have a right to have them the natural question to ask is what gives a person a right to do anything in the first place? This is, to put it mildly, a complicated subject, but some light can be shed on the matter in even a small space.

A right that can be applied consistently from person to person in all times and places is what might be called an individual right (though many would have a different definition).

This is opposed to collective rights that would be more likely to reference “the greatest good for the greatest number” or “for the good of society” (or “for the good of the school”).

However, collective rights face a problem, namely the vast differences between people (race, class, gender), but only a limited number or way of organizing individuals.

In other words, society does not exist independently of individual human beings. Society does not have feeling, needs and desires – individuals do. For this reason if we are going to have any concept of rights that is actually relevant to human nature, they must be individual rights.

There is only one solution that can be applied consistently: that each person is entitled to his or her own time and energy. This is essentially libertarian position: private property, and non-aggression. You have your right to your time and energy and everyone else has a right to their time and energy so long as they do not interfere with one another. You have a right to a gun, as long as the person whose property you are on doesn’t mind. You have a right to drink beer, so long as the restaurant owner is OK with it.

So what is the answer when it comes to the school? In short, there isn’t one. Our school is paid for by a hybrid of private trade and taxes. As far as property goes, the school belongs to no one. But this is the reason why we must understand what rights are before all else, and then debate about them; other wise we are going to be caught intellectualizing midstream, rather than principles first.